The nine traits of temperament: Sensitivity

Understanding your child’s sensitivity can help you understand and support your child.

Temperament

Temperament refers to personality traits that determine how someone reacts to the world. Are they quiet or rambunctious? Easygoing or apprehensive? The traits of temperament are mostly innate traits that we are born with, although they can be influenced by an individual’s family, culture or their experiences. A person’s temperament style plays a role in how they behave and how they interact with other people and within their world.

There are nine different traits of temperament, and in this article we will explore the trait of sensitivity.

Sensitivity

People who are more sensitive react more strongly to sound, light, touch, smell and taste. They may be bothered by tags in their clothing and be troubled by bright lights and loud noises. Their reactions to these stimuli may also be intense; what seems like a small nuisance may bring about a big response.

High sensitivity

Children who are highly sensitive may react very strongly to their environment. They may be upset by the sounds of a loud truck outside or bothered by bright fluorescent lights. They react to the slightest stimuli that may seem harmless to everyone else or even go unnoticed.

Low sensitivity

Children with low sensitivity won’t be bothered by subtle stimuli, like sounds or textures. Their reactions may not be as strong when they are impacted by something; they may not cry when they fall down, even if they are hurt.

Parenting and sensitivity

Taking your child’s sensitivity into account can help you have more positive interactions with them. If your highly sensitive child is bothered by uncomfortable clothes, take them to the store to help you pick out clothes that are comfortable to them. You may also need to give them extra time in the morning to get dressed to make sure they find an outfit that is comfortable. Similarly, they may need time and quiet space when you are at a family gathering or a party.

You may also need to be more tuned in to your low sensitivity child, as they may not react strongly when they are hurt, sick or bothered by something. By tuning in and paying attention, you can make sure you are aware of and meeting their needs.

Letting your daily schedule and expectations vary to meet your child’s sensitivity can prevent conflict and stress, and allow your child to have their needs met in a way that plays to their strengths and builds upon their natural temperament.

For more information about children and temperament, check out the other articles in this series:

For more articles on child development, academic success, parenting and life skill development, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.

To learn about the positive impact children and families are experience due to MSU Extension programs, read our 2016 Impact Report. Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways Michigan 4-H and MSU Extension positively impacted individuals and communities in 2016, can be downloaded from the Michigan 4-H website.

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